Restaurants Table the Smartphone Chatter | Food Newsfeed
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In a survey of consumers last August, Pew Research Center discovered that only 38 percent said it was generally OK to use cellphones in a restaurant.

Table the Smartphone Chatter

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Dining room etiquette calls for courtesy to trump obsessive connectivity.

By Connie Gentry March 2016

Guilty as charged, at least when it comes to texting at the table.

I try really hard to curb that compulsive habit when I’m out with friends, but catch me dining solo and the cellphone is in my hand—almost as often as the flatware. Even worse, my husband and I are just as likely as any couple to be scanning messages or staying connected with the world at large while we are out for a casual meal.

With that admission, perhaps the story on Dining Etiquette in the Digital Age (page 57) reads a bit too close to home. However—although I may be tapping a text—I draw the line at talking on a mobile device at the table, which is inevitably disruptive to other guests in the restaurant. I’m not alone in thinking phone chatter should be tabled in a restaurant.

In a survey of consumers last August, Pew Research Center discovered that only 38 percent said it was “generally OK” to use cellphones in a restaurant. However, the report went on to discuss that how the phone is being used in a public setting makes a difference. For instance, taking photos or videos, or using the phone for social media in an effort to pull others into the dining experience was more acceptable.

As our story describes, restaurant operators have a range of opinions about cellphone use, and it is exciting to see the actions taken by some to create private spaces where guests can talk on their phones. Or, the incentives others are offering to encourage guests to enjoy the moment—not the mobile device—at hand. I also applaud the premise that cellphones have no place in a dimly lit restaurant with an upscale ambiance. (There are places where even my predilection to stay plugged in takes a back seat to the decorum of my surroundings.)

One of my pet peeves, however, was not addressed in the story: Unless silenced, smartphone messages can create a range of noise interference without anyone speaking a word. Even in casual restaurants, it’s simply too obtrusive if diners throughout the room are contributing a bevy of pings, dings, tweets, and vibrations into the auditory atmosphere. Surely there is a middle ground between censoring all cellphones and turning a deaf ear to the random interruptions.

Simply setting standards of etiquette may be the answer. If restaurants can post guidelines for shoes, shirts, shorts, and—in growing numbers—guns, is it too much for operators to ask that guests turn their smartphones to silent?

That seems to fall under the heading of common courtesy, not excessive control, and diners can use silenced smartphones in most restaurant settings without disturbing anyone.